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The Kid Should See This

What are solar canals and how much water do they save?

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Solar panels on rooftops. Solar panels in parking lots. Solar panels in school yards. Not only do solar panels collect much needed renewable energy from the sun, but they can also create shade wherever they’re installed.

So how can we be strategic about where we’re installing solar panels? From Figure 1 by the University of California:

“California uses a system of canals to transport our water, but during the hot summer months, these canals lose water to evaporation. So, what if we covered them with solar panels to protect the water from the sun?


“…On land, big solar farms take up a lot of space and often displace native animals and plants. Adding solar to existing water infrastructure could be a win-win.”

Brandi McKuin, environmental engineering graduate alumna and a co-author of this UC Merced study, is investigating how solar can protect California’s open water canals, primarily used for agricultural irrigation, from a lot of evaporation. Call them solar canals. Via UC Merced:

“…McKuin was one of the researchers who showed that covering the 4,000 miles of California’s water canals could reduce evaporation by as much as 82%, saving about 63 billion gallons of water a year.”

Saving 63 billion gallons from evaporation

“That’s comparable to the same amount needed to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people.

“Estimates indicate that covering all state water canals with solar installations would also generate 13 gigawatts of renewable power, equaling roughly 1/6th of the state’s current installed capacity β€” about half the projected new capacity needed by 2030 to meet the state’s decarbonization goals.”

California's canal system
Project Nexus is a California-funded proof of concept that’s based on this research. With completion planned in 2024, the pilot project will test different solar canal cover designs over sections of Turlock Irrigation District’s (TID) irrigation canals. TID’s YouTube channel shares a Project Nexus introduction video below:

Turlock solar canal rendering

Watch more about evaporation and solar power, including:
β€’ How are scientists harvesting water from thin air?
β€’Β The Basics of Freshwater + Water, Water, Everywhere?
β€’ Why don’t we cover the desert with solar panels?
β€’Β Using seawater and sunlight to grow sustainable food in the desert

Bonus: Shade vs Sun: Summer sidewalk temperatures in Tucson, Arizona.

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